The Synthetic Bestiary – Synthetic Biology, Genetic Engineering, and The Future

Cyborg Turtle Gets An Artificial Fin


A loggerhead sea turtle found itself in a pretty bad spot when it lost its front legs to a shark. Luckily for it Japanese rescuers have fitted it with two new artificial front legs, allowing it to swim once again! Prosthetics aren’t just for humans anymore. But this lucky turtle isn’t the first prosthetic wielding aquatic animal, Fuji is a dolphin who has been successfully using her $83,000 aritificial tail for years now!

Watch videos of both after the break!

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When Life Looks Alien

After the break you will find two videos about the amazing, and strikingly alien life which is all around us. From the protists and microscopic life of Clemens Wirth’s ‘Micro Empire’ – to the strange world of praying mantises shown in Cokau’s ‘Prie Dieu’. These are just some of the alien worlds all around us.

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Citizen Scientists Track European Heredity

Citizen scientists have recently published a paper in PLOS One tracking human male migration and expansion, using the R1b1a2 gene on the Y chromosome. What makes this work special is the citizen scientist aspect of it. Following on from our previous article on bioinformatics as a growing hobby, this work shows that such a hobby can be a truly useful form of crowd sourced science. One of the authors of the paper remarked:

We’ve tried to show how such progress can be facilitated by an engaged community of individuals, with varied and complementary skills, connected via the Internet.

Find out more at Futurity. Also check out our educational page on DIY biology.

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Entire Cell Simulated For First Time

The overarching goal of systems biology is to understand how all of the individual small molecules which make up cells (and thus organisms) work together to create the an overall phenotype. A huge step forward in this field has come with the first “entire cell” simulation – a program which predicts the phenotype of a cell in different internal states. This work was done by a collaboration between scientists at Stanford University and the J. Craig Venter Institute. This initial simulation is for one of the simplest cells possible – but it is nonetheless a huge step towards the goals of systems biology made possible by rapidly improving computer speeds.

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Humans As Bacterial Cities

Metagenomics is a field of research which uses genomic data from a large number of organisms in an ecosystem to attempt to characterise the ecosystem holistically. This technique has only recently been possible with the advent of high throughput sequencing. Metagenomics is particularly good for investigating life which can’t be readily grown/cultured in a lab – which is a surprisingly large amount of the microbial world. One particular part of the microbial world, our own bodies, is being investigated in the Human Microbiome Project.

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